Sunday, November 15, 2009

Humanity Behind The Headlines

We're a headlines culture. We like to know general facts but don't delve in deep. We may even read two or three paragraphs about something but go on with our lives. I'm one that has always liked to keep up with world news and am more than guilty of knowing general headlines but not knowing the depth of a situation or story.

I remember being in grad school and longing for the day when I could read for FUN again; reading a book because I wanted to not because I was required to. Ever since I've arrived here, I've been reading a lot of books consisting of personal stories of turmoil in Africa. Being here so close to these places makes me want to learn about them. I've seen so many headlines about Gulu, the LRA, Rwanda, Darfur but what do I really know about what went down? I know headlines, sure, but I don't know the people. I started out with "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" that detailed the history and circumstances behind the Rwandan genocide as well as the aftermath that has effects that are lasting to this day in Rwanda and especially Congo.

My roommates recently commented on how I need to start reading some "light" books as all I read are heavy books. I can't help it. That book created a hunger in me to learn more about the area that I'm living in now and what people have experienced. It doesn't help that the bookstore I go to here has a steady supply of incredible biographies and true stories of atrocities that I've only read headlines of. I've been voraciously devouring books as my hunger for knowledge of the history around me increases. From child soldiers ("A Long Way Gone") to LRA abductions ("Aboke Girls") and much more, my mind has been constantly learning and yearning to know and understand more.

Two of the more recent books that I have read have helped me understand the plight of women in Africa. "Infidel" is written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her life growing up in Somalia as a Muslim. Though I'd studied Islam before, Islam in Africa is another deal. Animism gets tied in to every major religion here and as I've seen that with Christianity here in Uganda, she experience in Somalia with Islam. It also gave me an incredible background to the absolute insanity that has taken over Somalia now. In the end, she turns towards atheism as the answer which saddens me. Her journey, however, opens a door to the world of Islam in Africa. Absolutely fascinating. "Tears of the Desert" is the story of Halima Bashir, "one woman's true story of surviving the horrors of Darfur". What really got me to buy the book was a review on the book stating "Darfur has found its Anne Frank". Done. Sold. I read it in a little over a day. I couldn't put it down. The book started with her being gang raped as an adult and then zipped back to her loving childhood and went from there. So many parts of that book left me speechless, with only tears in my eyes.

Headlines. How many headlines have I read about Darfur? How many stories have I heard about the atrocities that have happened there? It's almost become "normal" to hear about it. Another village attacked. Hundreds dead. Normal. What's lost in headlines is humans. You don't see the lives that are impacted. I think of this so often when I look around to those that I love here. What if genocide hit here now? No one would know that this particular girl was so bright and smart. No one would know how talented this guy was. No one would know all that this one has already gone through in their lives and not only survived but risen so far above it. They would be summarized in a dead headline and dismissed with the next news story. That breaks my heart beyond what I can put into words. It is what the authors of these books are screaming out to the world...

...but who is listening?

Humanity is lost within headlines. It is the same with stories. I could tell you hundreds of stories about people here. The stories would break your heart. You would perhaps even shed tears. It's unreal, which is perhaps why it is so easily dismissed. It doesn't seem like the reality of the situation effects our lives and so we go on. What is lost in those stories is the humans that live those lives. I get the honor and privilege to see these lives. It's not like you hear a story about a girl who has been abandoned by her family and is struggling to survive and go back to your life. No, I see that girl as she LIVES her life this way.

My hunger for knowledge growls within me. I'll keep pursuing that as much as I can with a heart that grows heavier for God's most wondrous creation: humans.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
(Psalm 139:13-16 NLT)